like-clockwork-hd-2.jpgQUEENS OF THE STONE AGE: ...Like Clockwork
Matador, 46 minutes
Rating: 3.5/5

Time has been very kind to Queens of the Stone Age’s third album Songs for the Deaf (2002). I can’t name a modern hard rock album as fondly remembered by a wide audience. Certainly, like the Joshua Trees sprouting from the Mojave Desert stomping ground of frontman Josh Homme’s youth, it wasn’t exactly surrounded by stiff competition. But by any measure its legacy is secure.

QOTSA followed it with two good albums — the uniformly spooky Lullabies to Paralyze (2005) and gleefully perverse Era Vulgaris (2007) — but to many fans ...Like Clockwork is the potential heir to Deaf’s legacy. It welcomes back three of that album’s featured players — vocalist Mark Lanegan, drummer Dave Grohl and bassist Nick Oliveri — and is adorned with a strikingly similar black-on-red colour scheme. Its lead single “My God is the Sun” has the relaxed confidence of Deaf’s breakout single “No One Knows.”

If the worst thing one can say of ...Like Clockwork is that it fails to live up to the most optimistic expectations, well, that’s kind of our fault. It’s still a perpetually entertaining, ballsy record to hear at a time when the world’s most popular “rock” group plays the goddamn banjo. Those in want of the band’s signature ominousness will find “Keep Your Eyes Peeled” and “I Appear Missing” to their liking. Hell, even those that don’t like QOTSA may take to the surprisingly upbeat power-pop of “I Sat by the Ocean” or the AM radio throwback “The Vampyre of Time and Memory.”  

Few will leave ...Like Clockwork feeling torn apart and rearranged, as was the effect of Songs for the Deaf and its predecessor Rated R (2000). But having gotten a lot older and a little wiser, Homme is apparently less interested than his fans in turning back the clock.

cityandcolour.jpgCITY AND COLOUR: The Hurry and the Harm

Dine Alone, 51 minutes
Rating: 2.5/5

City and Colour’s only permanent member, Dallas Green, has a soft falsetto singing voice that is serviceably beautiful but limited. It was a fine counterbalance to whomever did the screaming in his former emo-indie band Alexisonfire, but without any angles to play off of, his solo songs have a dull affect. His stuff makes Great Lake Swimmers sound edgy.

“I don’t know what drugs to take / to successfully alter the state / my mind has been in as of late” Green sings on “Of Space and Time.” While drugs may not be what he needs specifically, certainly something as innocuous as a cup of coffee could give the tunes on The Hurry and the Harm some pep.

Even the gentlest music needs some emotional extremes. Most of the time Green just sounds ... not bored exactly, but right in the No Man’s Land between elation and sadness. Most of his lyrics are fancy breakup metaphors but whomever most recently shared Green’s bed must not have been much of a muse. When his subject matter occasionally changes direction — like on the spiritually yearning “Paradise” — his lyrics have a far greater impact than his delivery or the melody. A much stronger wordsmith than singer or songwriter, Green’s most profound turns of phrase remain trapped in his pleasant, unambitious compositions. “I don’t wanna be revolutionary / I’m just looking for the sweetest melody” he admits on “Commentators.” If that’s a preemptive response to criticism of his music, it’s tellingly limp.

JonHopkins_AlbumArt.jpgJON HOPKINS: Immunity
Domino, 60 minutes
Rating: 4/5

Since musicians first started using computers to approximate human feeling, a select few have excelled at making music that sounds more human than what can be achieved with traditional instruments.

This isn’t entirely surprising; technology can create more precise time signatures and percussive elements of more varying weight that can replicate the rhythm and hum of the human body — a heartbeat here, a sine wave there. It’s a somewhat esoteric and indefinable quality, but if any electronic artist of today possesses it, that artist is certainly Jon Hopkins.

Following the pop-leaning King Creosote collaboration Diamond Mine, Immunity is an instrumental yet deeply emotional (more accurately, achingly sad) successor. It is divided into eight tracks but works very much as a continuous piece, with individual moments that stand out more than songs themselves. True to the chemically reactive cover art the smallest elements have the greatest impact — there’s as much impact in the distant footsteps in “Breathe This Air” as the album’s more tremendous beats.

Related >> Music Interview with Jon Hopkins

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